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The History of NewsChannel 7

By: Matt Behrens Email
By: Matt Behrens Email

As many of you have heard, NewsChannel 7 is undergoing a pretty significant change.

"We're going to shut down our current digital transmitter, shut down our analog transmitter, and bring up our brand new digital transmitter," says Chad Myers, Chief Engineer at NewsChannel 7.

And that means the end of analog broadcasting, a format NewsChannel 7 has transmitted for the last 55 years.

But to understand the importance of that switch, we first need to go back in time, to look at the many changes that have brought us to that point.

"We went on the air in October, 1954. I made the first announcement putting Channel 7 on the air, and I take great pride in that," says Walter John Chilsen, News Director at Channel 7 from 1954-1964.

And it was just as exciting for the people of Northcentral Wisconsin, as before Channel 7, the closest television stations were in either Eau Claire or Green Bay.

But once Channel 7 went on the air, the people of Wausau not only had their own station, but also their own local news coverage.

Chilsen says, "I was the news director, Howard Gernetzke was the weather man, and George Bunder was sports. Mark Zelich joined us, I think we had been on the air about a year or so."

But the faces weren't the only differences between the Channel Seven of today and yesterday, as the station also had a very different location and image.

Mark Zelich, who was the Sports Director at Channel 7 from 1956-1977, and the News Director from 1965-1984 says, "It was in a building called the mansion, the Plumer Mansion, and… It looked like just a big old granite building, which has it's aesthetics, but not for a television station."

Chilsen adds, "Sid Kyler came up with the very clever logo of using the mansion, the knight in shining armor, Sir Seven."

"Management wanted that kind of tie-in, and Sid helped conceive Sir Seven… Sir Seven and the castle, it fit," says Zelich.

But while the station had a personality that would exist for decades to come, its' equipment wouldn't fit in quite as well today.

"The Plumer Mansion only had one large room to begin with, and one camera in operation," says Chilsen.

"Obviously everything was black and white, we were in analog back then," adds Zelich. "All our pictures were in black and white, they came on AP Photo-Fax, we would try to tint them with a little color and put them on the air, and hopefully that would bring some kind of color, which was idiotic but we tried it anyway."

"There was no videotape, very rare sound on film," says Chilsen. "That was the archaic way television worked in those days."

Despite those handicaps though, there were quite a few moments made and programs started at Channel 7 that would stand the test of time.

Zelich says, "During that period, I had a chance to be as innovative as I wanted to be... So we got the Channel 7 All-Stars, the Channel 7 Pinbusters... But also continent with the All-Stars back in 1961, we went with the Channel 7 Golf Tournament."

"John Kennedy came here to be interviewed on the air," adds Chilsen. "And I think as I recall, Howard Gernetzke did the live interview with President Kennedy."

And soon the technology would begin to evolve as well, beginning with the move from the Plumer Mansion to the station's new home at 1114 Grand Avenue.

"We looked with great favor on having a much more sophisticated and a roomier place in which to work," says Chilsen.

Zelich adds, "Sound film and sound color came when we came into this building in '70… And then we got into electronic news gathering, with our first cameras... So yeah, that really moved us into another time, and into a more comfortable environment here."

And as time has moved on, technology has evolved with it, from new broadcasting towers and video tape, to digital video and our own WebChannel.

But with analog broadcasting coming to an end at NewsChannel 7, is this the end of an era?

"No, I don't think it's the end of an era, I think it's a continuation of, from the very beginning until now, it's not the end of anything, if anything it's a new beginning," says Myers.

Zelich adds, "Technology obviously has been a big part of it, there's no question about that, but I still think that's a compliment, as a supplement to what we do, it does not replace what we do."

Myers says, "We're still going to make the same television, you know, put out the same quality product we always have, just in a different format."

And of course a big thank you to everyone who has ever been involved with NewsChannel 7, from 1954 through 2009.


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